May 10, 2019

What Does Each VFX Job Title Mean? Here's a Breakdown

"Avengers: Endgame" is about to be the box office champ. Thousands of people, especially VFX people, worked on the movie. But what do they do? 

There's no denying the power of Avengers at the box office. It's a movie that continues to wow audiences and breaks records. It's sad that this one didn't have a post-credits scene, because a lot of people left the theater before reading the names of the people who worked late nights bringing this spectacle to the big screen. 

And even if they stayed, would we really be able to appreciate the nuance of each VFX position? 

What do the VFX people do on Avengers: Endgame

Lucky for us, Twitter user DradakVFX sat through the scroll and askes a big question: 

"What do all these people do?"

DradakVFK then took the time to Google, IMDB, and track what each VFX person did on the movie and color code it for us. 

Credit: DradekVFX

Still, for simpletons like me, I had no idea what any of these jobs do. So we made a few calls and Googled ourselves, and decided to give definitions to every category he mentioned. So let's dive in! 

1. Rotoscoping 

Rotoscoping is an animation technique used to trace motion picture footage, frame by frame, to produce realistic action. This is part of the first steps of creating the VFX on every Marvel movie. You start with live-action cinematography against a green screen or a partial set. Rotoscope artists cut subjects out of the environment frame by frame. This is detailed and strenuous work. After the character or object is cut out, other members of the VFX team can drop in their work behind that character so it integrates into the overall picture. 

2. TRACKING/MATCHMOVE

Matchmove artists go frame by frame and track the motion of the actor, vehicle, prop, or subject. They do this so that it can match the motion of the other CG elements that get dropped into the frame.  If you don't track this stuff, the CG images will look like they're floating around within the scene. 

3. MODELER

Every CG character or environment needs to be completed from the ground up. Even things like Dr. Strange's cape need to be completely fabricated. Modelers are basically sculptors who build everything you see on screen. The use 3D software and draw/sculpt everything from scratch, with occasional 3D photos take to help with more complex objects like boats, cars, and moons.  

4. RIGGING

Okay, let's say you have a 3D model created by your modeler. Now you need to add motion to that model. That's where rigging comes into play. They create a digital skeleton that provides realistic movement. You don't want your characters to look wooden or jerky, so they breathe life into the movements.

5. ANIMATOR

Animator seems like a general term, mostly because we use it to describe almost everything under the sun. But it's actually quite specific. One you have a rigged model, the animator key-frames each subject to capture the performance. So when Josh Brolin wears a mo-cap suit to be Thanos, the animators come in and drop Thanos' face on top and make his purple body move. 

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6. TEXTURING

So you have an animated Thanos, but his muscles don't ripple? Better get someone from the texture department. The texture people add all the accouterments that make things feel real. The grains of sand, sweat, blood, and decals on a race car. They have huge catalogs of real-life images they pull from to make everything seem natural. 

7. GROOMING

Yes, we're talking about Hulk's neatly trimmed chest hair. Simulating hair on a Hulk or a raccoon is hard work. So there's a whole department dedicated to the strands and how they should behave. Does Thor's beard blow in the breeze?  How should Captain Marvel's new haircut flap in the wind? These artists answer those questions and reflect that on screen. 

8. CREATURE FX

Creature FX people pick up all the extra jobs on set. They're like the scrapple of the VFX department. They add the jiggle to Thor's belly. The leaf shakes on Groot's gait. If you clothing bunches or moves in battle, they get that too. These guys bat clean-up and make sure when a scene leaves their desk nothing goes unnoticed. 

9. FX

Michael Bay's favorite department. Probably. Look, a lot of stuff in Marvel blows up. We can't be throwing moons around in real life, so the FX team's job is to determine what these insane events would look like in real life, and then digitally replicate them. That means adding flames, smoke, sparks, and the occasional rubble to sell stuff. They have to carefully watch each movement and motion to make sure they also align with the destruction. 

10. ENVIRONMENT/DMP

Marvel movies are shot on a lot of green screens. So someone has to replace those screens and platforms with true-to-life plates that transport us to far away worlds. Or just add explosions and devastation to the one we inhabit already. We call these heroes matte painters because they use digital matte painting (DMP) to add 3D elements to each set and set piece. 

11. LIGHTING

Hooray for the lighting team. These digital gaffers have to match the cinematographers look and feel for the whole movie. That means stressing about natruual light, source, color, and direction in each CG-created scene. You can't have your computer effects look cheesy, so matching perfectly is a must. 

12. COMPOSITING

Okay, so you have people adding backgrounds that have to match real and created characters. What if they don't? The compositors combine characters with background environments. And it's not just the characters, it's the weapons they use. So if Cap throws his shield or the Mjolnir, that has to seamlessly live in the world as well. The compositor makes sure that happens.  They make it seem like there are no special effects at all. Just real life. 

13. PIPELINE TD

Nope, not a touchdown. We're talking technical directors. Who do you think helps all the awesome people on this list get on the same page? These people are charged with fitting together each person's toolsets, communication links, assets, and processes to their final form. They're the highway that keeps each department on time and organizes the effort. 

14. EDITORIAL

Yup. Even the VFX needs to be edited before it's given to the film's editor. VFX editors are the go-between for VFX studios and the main production. They facilitate dropping the final scenes into the main timecode. They can answer questions and also let the VFX people know what was missed or what needs a tiny tweak. 

What's next? Learn the history of CGI in Three Minutes

CGI got its start in the 1950s, in Hitchcock's Vertigo, but since then each year has marked an incredible leap forward in the technology. This video essay comprises CGI's history and its mark on cinema. While doing a deep dive for an article, I found this amazing and comprehensive website COMPUTER ANIMATION HISTORY-CGI, which lists over 250 examples of the first instances of every CGI method ever. The website chronicles all of them and even provides video examples. They even have a YouTube channel that can take you through the vast history of CGI. 

But what if you don't have time for that? 

Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals took that website and made an incredible mood reel that captures all eighteen of the significant leaps forward in computer-generated imagery.      

Your Comment

2 Comments

Thanks for sharing this! I've always wondered about all these different VFX jobs.

May 10, 2019 at 1:25PM, Edited May 10, 1:25PM

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Evan Olow
Writer and Director
262

I’ve never used Flowbox before, I’ll have to look into that.

A lot of studios are starting to blur the lines of of VFX titles. Going to a less specialized artist and more of a generalist. The BIG budget companies will still use specialist, but more on a freelance basis.

May 13, 2019 at 6:50PM, Edited May 13, 6:50PM

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Brian
Senior Producer / Graphic Design Artist
188